Monday, October 31, 2011

True story: Holding Hands with Evil ( final part)

What follows is a true story. I wrote it following interviews with murderer Eric Nenno and Mark Young, and after reviewing newspaper accounts of the case. All names and information are public record. What is different is the perspective: of the killer, and the man who caught him. All previous parts are below.

PLEASE NOTE: while not unduly graphic in description, this is the story of the murder of a young girl. Do not read this if the subject matter is disturbing to you.


Throughout the confession, Young remained true to his personal pledge to do everything in his power to remain professional. He remained calm and spoke only when necessary. He directed the conversation and helped the suspect along where necessary, but he wanted the suspect, not the interviewer, to do the talking. Twelve years later, Eric Nenno himself remembered how calmly Mark Young got to the truth.

I found Special Agent Young to be exceptionally adept at his interrogation techniques. He was both insightful and thorough in his approach to gaining truthful responses. Instead of dwelling on a specific detail for a lengthy time, he would change the topic and revisit the question later on, often from a slightly different angle or line of reasoning.

Young’s professionalism in these situations was crucial, it was the mask he put on when dealing with the worst of society. He wore it to protect his own psyche and also because he found that getting people to open up, particularly when they were faced with their own evil deeds, started when they began to trust him. And Young knew from experience that trust came quicker when he treated his suspect decently. He didn’t shout, browbeat, or threaten them. As Nenno remembered:

After taking a polygraph test, I returned to the interview room and gave Special Agent Young and Detective Johnson a verbal confession. Detective Johnson entered the information into a laptop computer as Special Agent Young assisted me with collecting and organizing my thoughts and words into a coherent statement. Even at this point, knowing that I was confessing to a particularly horrendous crime, Special Agent Young maintained an unbiased, professional attitude toward me. He did not raise his voice nor make any disrespectful comments during the process of getting my confession uploaded, and later printed out for me to sign and initial.

Testimony was presented at my capital murder trial in JAN 96 by various HCSD [Harris County Sheriff’s Department] personnel in their respective capacities and involvement with the case. Unlike several other witnesses, Special Agent Young did not rely on a printed file for his responses to the prosecutor’s inquiries or cross-examination by defense counsel. He replied in an articulate, astute, and concise manner, revealing his confidence and depth of knowledge of every aspect encompassing the investigation.


On October 28, 2008, thirteen years after killing Nicole Benton, and less than one month after writing in glowing terms about the man who had helped seal his fate, Eric Charles Nenno was executed by lethal injection in Huntsville, Texas.



  1. Did Nenno really write like that -- "exceptionally adept at his interrogation techniques"? Just seems like he would have said, "really good at gettin' the questions to me". Or perhaps I've misunderstood his level of education?

  2. He sure did. Those quotations are taken directly from letters he wrote me. I think he probably had a little time to consult his dictionary...

  3. He probably had a lot of time to educate himself while on death row. What else is there to do? Believe me, many killers are quite smart and/or well-educated with excellent vocabularies, even if some of them are socially inept.

    I'm glad that he is gone. Young is really amazing. I don't know how investigators like him can do it when the average person would have wanted to strangle the guy! But I know the greater good was at stake. Glad there are people out there like Young.

  4. Did he ever discuss the crime itself with you? I'm curious if he showed remorse? Thought he was wired that way? Do you think he thought he would do something like that again if he ever got out?

    I guess I'm just curious for more insight into what this guy was actually thinking.

  5. How interesting. I am sorry Part 8 is the end of the series.

  6. I found this series very interesting, too. One of the best books I ever had to read (for college) was "Inside the Criminal Mind" by Dr. Stanton Samenow. Gives very good insight into how criminals are wired differently.

    I agree with NSA--I'm sorry this is the end. I think this very fascinating. I, myself, wanted to sit and chat with the Twilight Rapist Billy Joe Harris before he left Jackson County for his vacation in the Big House, but I procrastinated and missed the opportunity.

    I don't believe I've ever heard a criminal discuss his crime and not say he really thought he'd get away with it.

    By the way, I saw you cold case on 48 Hours. Excellent job! And who knew you were so cute!

  7. Thanks everyone. Especially Edith Ann. ;)

    I did speak to him about the crime, and I plan to keep writing for another week about him and our meeting. As you can imagine, it was utterly fascinating.

    So stay tuned, your questions will be answered....

  8. Great series. In the NYC office I worked in, ADAs are able to interrogate suspects on video. Whenever I did it and whenever I meet with a suspect now, I am surprised at what motivates people to commit crimes.

    Were there any other incidents like this in his past?

  9. Nicole was a cousin of mine. I was living on the west coast at the time this was going on, so I never learned very much about it. The family didn't want to talk about it. So I find, every now and then some info on this scum.


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